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Auriculotherapy and Vagal Nerve Stimulation

Auriculotherapy for Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Kirkland, Wa

August, 2019


I’ve long been fascinated by the Vagus Nerve, the main nerve responsible for regulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System, commonly known as the “Rest and Digest” part of the nervous system.  In fact, I’ve been so intrigued by it that I wrote about it for my capstone project to complete Acupuncture School, and frequently discuss Vagal Nerve Stimulation techniques in the yoga classes that I teach. 

Here’s a quick overview of the vagus nerve:  the Vagus Nerve is the longest running cranial nerve in your body. It is one of ten paired cranial nerves and goes from your brain stem all the way down to your gut. 

The word “vagus” literally translates to “wandering” in Latin, and the Vagus Nerve certainly lives up to its name. As the longest and most complex of all the cranial nerves, it starts at the stem of the brain, travels behind the ears before making its way down the sides of the neck, through the chest, eventually ending in the abdomen innervating the heart, lungs, throat and gut along the way. 

When the flight of fight or “stresss” response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, a host of physical changes happen. Adrenaline begins pumping through the body. The heart and breath rates are accelerated, digestion slows or stops altogether, blood vessels constrict and muscles tense in preparation to fight or flee.

The Vagus Nerve and parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bringing the body back to homeostasis. After periods of stress and anxiety, this "calm" state is brought about by releasing a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.

More and more studies are showing how detrimental stress is to our health, and how high stress levels can lead to diseases that are linked to high levels of inflammation.  Naturally, researchers and clinicians are looking into how Vagal Nerve Stimulation can be used to bring the body back into balance, restoring health and wellness. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to stimulate the Vagus Nerve.  One of my favorites is by using Auriculotherapy, or ear acupuncture because the Vagus nerve actually innervates part of the ear.  In fact, I treat all of my patients with ear needles as part of their treatments.  Healing happens when we can make that shift from the “Fight of Flight” state to the “Rest and Digest” state, and I have found ear treatments particularly helpful in making this shift.  Other great ways to stimulate the Vagus nerve are by practices such as meditation and yoga.